St Albans Museum and Gallery
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Accessible new attraction for heritage city
Accessibility issues can often
prove a stumbling block in historic buildings, so it’s a welcome change to hear
that in St Albans, access for all has brought with it an unexpected benefit at the
city’s brand new cultural attraction.
The St Albans Museum + Gallery
which opened on 8th June, features two glass-sided galleries on the
first floor which offer a hitherto unseen perspective on the streets either
side of the city centre building.
Installed as a means of moving visitors with mobility issues, they also provide
the first ever link from the former Town Hall at the front of the building to
the historic octagonal courtroom behind. So now everyone is able to enjoy a pigeon’s
eye view of the city’s historic buildings.
I have lived all my life in and
around St Albans and have always thought that this wonderful cathedral city
suffers from its proximity to London. Barely 20 minutes by fast train from London-St Pancras and easily
accessible from the M1 and M25 motorways, it has never wooed international
visitors in the same way as Oxford, Cambridge and Canterbury.
And yet we have history and
heritage by the bucket-load, starting with the story of St Alban, beheaded by
the Romans and England’s first Christian martyr. Verulamium was an important city in Roman
times, covered today by the vast open space of Verulamium Park with its
recreational facilities and tranquil lake. But the Roman era is brought to life today at the well-stocked Roman
museum, the hypocaust, and at England’s best preserved Roman theatre.
On the hill above the old Roman
town stands the magnificent Cathedral with the longest nave in England and, a
short stroll away, England’s only medieval town belfry offers wonderful town
views. Like your golf? Follow the trail dedicated to local
businessman Samuel Ryder, founder of the Ryder Cup. Shop in the twice-weekly market, walk through
quaint streets, and relax in historic pubs.
There’s so much to see and do in
this buzzing town, but until this summer, St Albans had no focal point for
visitors. The city’s museum was a
well-stocked but woefully old-fashioned facility away from the main hub. But at last the new St Albans Museum +
Gallery provides an amenity for residents and visitors that is worthy of the
city. Costing £7.75 million, it opened after
a 2-year restoration of the city’s Grade II listed Georgian Town Hall, right in
the heart of the shopping area.
Set over three floors, the Museum
+ Gallery is a launch pad for first-time visitors to the city. Key local attractions are highlighted on a
historic timeline which points them to sites around the city where they can go
to experience the real deal. But there’s
lots to see in the converted Town Hall too before they go exploring.
The building was erected in 1831
and features a spectacular first-floor council chamber which once hosted large
scale meetings, dinners and even dances. Now it’s one of several spaces within the museum that is being used for
visiting art exhibitions. So there’s always
something different to see.
A new temperature-controlled and
secure basement gallery was hand-excavated to house national touring
exhibitions and contemporary art shows. First off, until 12 August, is First Impressions,
which covers 500 years of printing in the city. St Albans Museum + Gallery is working closely with UH Arts, the
University of Hertfordshire’s arts and cultural programme, and later this year the
Museum + Gallery will host temporary exhibitions from Hayward Gallery
Touring and the V&A Museum of Childhood.
The experience begins as you walk through
the imposing front door and into the high-ceilinged foyer which houses a
fabulous museum shop and busy cafe. Many
items have been sourced in partnership with the British Museums but there are
bespoke gifts as well. I loved the range
of items by scarf designer Andrea Hill featuring the l 19th century
architect’s drawings for the original building.
Food and drink can be taken to
outside tables in the summer months but I’d recommend finding a seat in the
octagonal courtroom which has been beautifully restored to make an atmospheric
eating space. And it’s disabled friendly
too, with space at tables on the upper levels for wheelchairs.
In fact with lifts throughout most
of the building, there’s only one part of the project which isn’t accessible to
wheelchairs and that’s the former prison area down below the courtroom. Here former prison cells have been converted
into conveniences, probably the only time you’ll ever have a loo stop on the
wrong side of the law!
is run by
St Albans Museum Services who also look after Verulamium Museum, the Hypocaust,
the medieval Clock Tower and Sopwell Ruins. Funded by a £2.8 million award from the Heritage Lottery Fund, as well
as by the local Council, heritage organisations and private donors, it is open
7 days a week and admission is free, although there may be a small charge for
major visiting exhibitions to cover costs.
So do come and visit, then explore
our city along the self-guided trail around the key sites, using a map
available free from the welcome desk. You’re
in for a treat!
Visitor information from
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